A Walk Back in Time: Visiting Tokyo’s Old Neighborhoods
Tokyo is constantly sprouting with office buildings, and whirring with cutting-edge technology and pop culture. The future is here and that’s great, but what about those times when you just want to step away from all that buzz? Although it’s a bustling metropolis, Tokyo is also steeped in a long history of culture and traditions that hasn’t all faded away. In some neighborhoods, the atmosphere is still steeped in the soul of old Tokyo. These are the places known as shitamachi, where the skeletons of the past still remain in the infrastructure. Here you can enjoy the ambience of the past as you meander along peaceful streets.
Perhaps one of the most famous shitamachi, Yanaka is soaked in remnants of the past and gives visitors not just a glimpse but a true experience of the old-town district. The Yanaka Ginza shopping street is one of the most photographed spots, still bustling with merchants and residents as it has been for decades. Artisan crafts and fresh produce line the streets, many of them family-run businesses. From elderly residents to curious youths, the bygone days of old Japan are kept alive by the people who continue to walk the streets. It’s not even just people—for some reason Yanaka is a cat haven. Highly populated with stray felines, the neighborhood has come to adopt cats as important residents and a symbol of their community. Look out for cat-themed crafts and snacks!
Yanaka takes their homage to the neighborhood cats seriously. Visit Yanaka Shippo-ya for delicious and adorable donuts shaped like cat tails!
Nearest station: Nippori
To tourists it may be a hidden gem, but to the locals it’s home as they know it. Monzen-nakacho, located in the Koto ward, preserves the richness of the Edo era when it was once a flourishing entertainment district. Today it’s a lot more toned down, but the peaceful streets still faintly throb with the austere air of yesteryears. Several canals run alongside the town, bringing to mind the image of old Tokyo as a river-dependent city. There also many shrines and temples including the famous Tomioka Hachiman, the largest of its kind in Tokyo and the birthplace of professional sumo. Whether you’re a history buff or simply want to take a stroll in the streets, Monzen-Nakacho will make you feel right at home with their homely restaurants and shops.
Nearest station: Monzen-Nakacho
If you’ve ever watched the classic Japanese film series “Otoko wa Tsurai yo”, you might recognize these streets. Shibamata was the location where the highly popular series was filmed, and to this day fans still come to the nostalgic temple town on a pilgrimage. Sure enough, a bronze statue of the iconic character Tora-san stands outside the station. The series captured the warm, close-knit community of middle-class Tokyo back then, and you can still feel the same bustling livelihood of the town today. Many of the stores have been open for over a century; you can enjoy traditional Japanese sweets and or enjoy the rich taste of local cuisine such as tempura.
Nearest station: Shibamata
In each of these neighborhoods traditional culture is guarded, seemingly far away from the modern city hub. The original nature of such neighborhoods survived the passage of time, and to this day still see people strolling and going about their everyday lives. Talk a walk back in time and take in the charm of old-fashioned Tokyo!
Photos by Sharuru
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